Shyanne Story would rather spend time with Fern and Emily than swap texts with her other friends.
Fern and Emily never would text Shyanne. They’re chickens. But the 13-year-old Annetta girl doesn’t swap texts with anyone else, either. If nonfeathered friends want to tell her something without talking, they have to send emails.
“I check my Gmail at school, or ask my parents if I can get on the computer at home,” said Shyanne, who added that she doesn’t have a cellphone, much less a smart one.
Neither does her 14-year-old brother, Houston. But the kids — whose parents also won’t let them have video games or unfettered access to computers — don’t feel deprived. Tasks like raising chickens and ducks, bringing them to such events as Sunday’s Open Poultry Show at the Fort Worth Stock Show, and helping their parents, Howard and Lorri Story, build a business at Story’s Fowl Farm keep their minds and bodies busy.
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Houston said he understands his parents’ reasoning.
“The kids at school are like, ‘The phone is my life,’ ” Houston said.
Kids whose eyes are always on their phones never see what’s going on around them, he said.
“They’re always glued to it,” he said. “I’ve actually seen a kid who doesn’t know how to use a fire extinguisher but he can play Clash Royale. That’s one of the games I see a lot of them playing on their phones.”
Shyanne said that going to school, playing sports, being a Girl Scout and nurturing 4-H projects like her chickens is plenty to keep her entertained. If she needs more, she can wander her family’s 4 acres.
It’s a lifestyle that Howard Story was determined to give his family after he retired from Lockheed. It’s a familiar lifestyle; he remembers coming to the Stock Show when he was 5 and showing poultry.
“When I was growing up, chickens were my FFA projects,” said Story, 59. “Today, we’re showing white call ducks, Ameraucana self blue and Ameraucana blue chickens, and mille fleur chickens.”
The Storys’ chickens and ducks were among about 1,300 birds in Sunday’s show, which also included pigeons, turkeys and geese.
There are more than 80 birds at Story’s Fowl Farm in Annetta, a small Parker County town near Aledo, Story said. His family has owned the property for about 65 years. And while the birds still are more of a hobby these days — Lorri Story works full-time as an accountant — the Storys hope to change that through hard work and luck.
“We’re funding the hobby by selling chicks and show birds,” Howard Story said. “But we’re traveling to large chicken shows to promote our birds and get points with the Ameraucana association.”
Those points lead to trophies and awards that eventually could make the Storys’ chickens so popular that people are willing to pay big bucks for them.
Already, some of the farm’s fowl are worth tidy sums. Story said a bobcat took one of his birds and “for what he got I could eat at Texas de Brazil. Our show chickens range from $25 to more than $100.”
The Storys don’t raise chickens to put on their own table — none of them want to deal with the process of preparing a live bird for cooking — but they do enjoy eggs. Even after putting 100 or so into incubators to hatch chicks to raise or sell, there are plenty left over for breakfast.
“I’m hoping this will turn into real money,” Story said. “Our family is typical of farming families who show.”
Makenzie Fitzgerald, who was helping her parents, show superintendents Melissa and Monty Fitzgerald, agreed with Story.
“I’ve been down here every year since I was born,” said Fitzgerald, 20. “I showed turkeys, ducks, all kinds of chickens when I was in Slidell FFA.”
Membership in a 4-H or FFA isn’t required to show in Sunday’s open division, or the junior open next Sunday, Fitzgerald said. Anyone from 5 to 18 years old who applies through the Stock Show office or online at fwssr.com and pays the $2-per-bird fee can participate.
Fitzgerald said that, like the Story kids, most of her time growing up was divided between schoolwork and tending to her show projects, which included pigs and sheep. She also played sports but didn’t devote any time to video games and didn’t have a cellphone until she was a high school junior. Her mom got it for her but limited the service to 200 texts per month.
“I didn’t miss anything,” Fitzgerald said. “I was able to do what I wanted to do at school, then come home and take care of my animals.”
The routine, she said, made her a more responsible adult. Now, she’s a small-business owner in Bridgeport, where the Fitzgerald family settled after leaving Decatur.
“I have a smartphone in my pocket now,” she said. “But I hardly ever use it.”